It appears the era of turbulence at the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) has not ended. The regional examinations body, an institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), has been going through a roller coaster of controversies in recent years that have served to undermine confidence in its operations.
The latest debacle to hit the Barbados-headquartered institution surrounds the leaking of the Mathematics Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam.
What we have learned is the egregious leak was discovered hours after students in Barbados wrote the examination. Preliminary investigations by CXC uncovered that the breach occurred in Jamaica where CXC has had its Administrative and Operational Centre, called the Western Zone Office, since 1973.
Formed in 1972 with the agreement signed in Barbados by 15 English-speaking Caribbean countries establishing the Council, CXC’s first meeting was held the following year, under the chairmanship of revered educator and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Roy Marshall.
The Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC®) was the region’s indigenous equivalent or replacement for the British GCE O’Level certification and it has garnered international acceptance as a high-quality examination for secondary school students.
The Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) are taken by persons who have completed their secondary ordinary level education.
CAPE has been viewed as a rigorous exam that, in some cases, is more difficult to pass than similar Advanced level exams in other regions of the world that use this standard for placement into higher education institutions.
For years, the CXC has been hailed as one of the finest examples of regional functional cooperation. Neither the integrity of its administration nor the quality of its educational products and programmes have been seriously questioned.
It is for these reasons that it has come as a shock to many of us in the region, the number of controversial decisions and missteps by the CXC.
Last year following the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had cause to be critical of the seeming inflexibility of the examinations body to the needs of students who were demanding more time. It was felt CXC’s exam schedule was prepared as if the pandemic never occurred, while students across the region, most of whom were grossly unprepared as a result of pandemic disruptions, cried foul.
“When teachers, parents and students from across the Caribbean form an alliance to pressure the CXC to be more compassionate and empathetic to their collective circumstances, one cannot help but believe there is merit in the criticism,” we wrote in this editorial space last April.
CXC’s administration gave into region-wide demands to consider the plight of students. Now this year, the examinations body is dealing with the fallout from an embarrassing breach of its CSEC Maths exam.
According to reports, the exam’s contents were floating around on TikTok and other social media sites. Paula-Anne Moore, spokesperson for the Group of Concerned Parents, Barbados, slammed the leak as “deeply demoralising”.
Furthermore, she said out loud what many of us have been thinking; that the recent history of handling such challenges had not redounded to the best interest of the students.
The student rights advocate warned that the region’s children and their teachers had worked hard in the pandemic environment and many children were already emotionally fragile due to the pandemic stressors.
She argued the developments further damaged the credibility of the regional testing body, as it was not the first time that breaches of this nature had occurred.
Local CXC registrar, Dr Roderick Rudder brought some calm to the situation by dismissing suggestions that the Barbadian students, for example, might be forced to sit a new Mathematics exam.
Now that CXC has uncovered the leak in Jamaica, one would expect that it will move swiftly to take action against those who are responsible for compromising the examination body’s integrity.
Furthermore, one would also expect an even more rigorous process to be developed to protect exams from premature and malicious disclosure which not only damages CXC but the holders of certification from the examining body.